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A Guide to Testing the Spirits



Tom Smith, Last update: September 5, 2006

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The Bible tells us in 1 John 4:1 that we are to test every spirit. We are also warned about apostasy and deception throughout scripture. In 2 Corinthians 11:4, Paul goes so far as to say that if someone came to the church in Corinth preaching a different Jesus and a different gospel, they might too easily put up with it. We also see so much going on in the church today with different waves of doctrines, and in many churches there are manifestations (possibly of both spirit and flesh) and prophecies are put out everywhere, in church and on internet.

It can be quite difficult to determine what is right and wrong, especially for a new Christian who may not have had the time to be as acquainted with scripture as a person who has had more years to study. We don't want to reject everything and perhaps throw out the baby with the bathwater and sit at home worried about every doctrine that is being preached. No, as members of the body, we are told to judge doctrine, and to judge the prophets (

This document was put together, as a guide to help in some simple testing of these matters. This is by no means any substitute for studying and becoming familiar with the scriptures, but it is intended to be a guide for a new Christian, or a quick summary or reminder for a Christian who has studied scripture for a number of years. I also do not claim that what is in here is complete - it is only intended as a guide.


This document was partly inspired by a series of sermons on the book of Jude by Pastor Dave Holland of Crossfield Baptist Church in Crossfield, Alberta. I appreciate Pastor Dave Holland's sound and clear teaching on this topic.

Proper Grounding in God's Word

Fundamentals of the Faith

The following fundamentals of our faith form a good checklist with which we can test the teachers who try to bend our ears from many different sources, be it in church, on TV, radio, newspapers, or on internet. It is critical for a Christian to understand the essentials of the faith. Without this firm grounding, it is easy for a false teachers to sway us using a good presentation and liberal use, or I should say misuse of scripture references. Take some time to read this document to become more familiar with what scripture has to say regarding the importance of sound doctrine:




Inerrancy of scripture

2 Tim 3:16, 2 Peter 1:21

Virgin birth and deity of Christ

Isa 7:14, Matt 1:18-25, Lk 1:26-38; John 1:1, John 1:14, John 8:53-58, Col 1:15-20; Heb 1:3; Heb 1:8

Sinless nature and life of Christ

Hebrews 4:15

Substitutionary death of the Saviour

Romans 5:6-8, 2 Cor 5:21

effectiveness of Christ's blood to cleanse sin

Heb 9:22, Heb 9:26, 1 John 1:7-9

Bodily resurrection of Christ

Luke 24:36-43, 1 Cor 15:1-11

Ascension of Christ and his present ministry to the believer

Acts 1:6-9, John 14:12-21, Romans 8:34, Eph 4:7-10

Literal future return of Christ to earth.

John 14:1-3, 1 Thess 4:13-18

Characteristics of the Counterfeit

The following paragraphs and charts give an overview of some of the characteristics that one might expect to see or hear in a false gospel or from a false teacher, or a false prophecy. It will also present you with some of the characteristics that you might expect to see exhibited in the actions and teachings of a false teacher or a false prophets.


A Series of Denials 



Denial of the power of God

2 Tim 3:4

Denial of Christ Himself

2 Peter 2:1

Denial of the return of Christ

2 Peter 3:3-5

Denial of the faith

1 Tim 4:1

Denial of Separated Life

2 Tim 4:3-4

Denial of sound doctrine

2 Tim 3:3-4

Denial of freedom in Christ

1 Tim 4:3-5

Denial of morals

Jude 18:19

Denial of Biblical Authority

2 Tim 3:15-17


Description of Apostasy


Reference (Jude unless indicated otherwise)

They are ungodly

Verse 4

They twist God's grace

Verse 4

They deny the work and person of Christ

Verse 4, 15; Titus 1:16

They given to sensuous dreams

Verse 8

They defile the flesh (theirs and others)

Verse 8

They reject divine and human authority

Verse 8

They ridicule existence of angels

Verse 8

They mock and curse that which they don't understand

Verse 10

They "do their own thing" like dumb and unreasoning animals

Verse 10

They are grumblers and fault-finders

Verse 16

They follow their own lusts

Verse 16

They are arrogant

Verse 16

They flatter people for the sake of gain

Verse 16

They are divisive

Verse 16

They are worldly minded

Verse 16

They are devoid of the spirit

Verse 16


Test of a Prophet or Prophecy

There are many people today who claim to hear from God, who claim to be speaking prophecy. How can we know that someone is truly speaking the word of God, or if the word that they speak is a false prophecy? 1 John 4:1 says "Do not believe every spirit but test the spirits to see whether they are of God", because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

It should be noted that simply passing a single one of these tests or a majority is not adequate. A true prophet of God must be able to pass all the tests indicated.

  1. Does the message exalt God or man?

The focus of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation is the gospel of man's fall into sin, and God's offer of grace for those who would receive it through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. The message of the Bible is one which exalts God as almighty, holy and loving. The Bible also makes it clear that outside of God's grace to us, we have nothing to offer. The gospel does not exalt man, but rather exalts God.

John 7:16 (NIV) reads "Jesus answered my teaching is not my own, it comes from him who sent me. If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. He who speaks on his own does so to gain honour for himself, but he who works for the honour of the one who sent him is a man of truth there is nothing false about him. So does the message honour God? Or man? He who speaks on his own does so to gain honour for himself.

  1. A True Prophet Prophesies in the Name of the Lord, not in his Own Name.

(2 Pet. 1:21, "For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.")

  1. Does it line up with the word of God?

God never changes or lies, therefore His word given through a prophet will be true and consistent with God's word. God has warned us against adding to or taking away from his words (Prov 30:5-6; 1 Cor 4:6; Rev 22:18-19), and therefore any prophecy which does so is a false prophecy. God will sometimes give us words which will help to guide us in specifics of our day to day lives in applying His word, but he does not add to or subtract from what is in scripture. Since it is the same spirit that inspired the Holy Scriptures, anything that God gives to man to speak will also not contradict the Bible. It it did, that would mean that God changed (contrary to Heb 13:8 and others) or that He lied. He will not lie - He is the Spirit of Truth.

A testimony of a true prophet will present the gospel, and will be consistent with the fundamentals of the Christian faith as summarized above. 1 John 4:1-3, "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world." We see in Deuteronomy 13:1-5 that there are prophets who gives prophecies that come to pass but who do not lead people towards the truth. In such a case the prophet is still a false prophet.

Isa. 8:20 if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them..

  1. Is the Message consistent with the Character of God as Revealed in Scripture?

This is actually an extension of test #2. God's character is revealed throughout scripture. If the revelation puts forward something contrary to His character or His nature, then we know that it is not of God.

  1. Does it come to pass?

This is a more difficult test to apply for two reasons:

      1. The test cannot be applied until after the event if the prophecy is a foretelling instead of a forthtelling.

I have seen some people condemn some of the true Old Testament prophets because some of the prophecies are yet to come to pass. That does not make the prophet a false prophet, but rather it simple means that God's timing for the event has not yet come. However, if the timing can be established from the prophecy and it fails to come to pass or fails to come to pass as described, then we can rightly call it a false prophecy.

      1. Even if it comes to pass, that does not mean that the prophet is a true prophet.

We see in Deuteronomy 13:1-5 that there are prophets who give prophecies that come to pass but which do not stand up against the tests given above in tests #1-3. In such a case the prophet is still a false prophet. The fact that the prophecy comes to pass is not proof that the prophet is a true prophet.

Do these prophetic words come to pass or happen? Jer. 28:9 reads- "when the word of the prophet shall come to pass, then shall the prophet be known". There is an example of this found in Jer.28: 16 Jeremiah was speaking to Hananiah, a false prophet. This is what the Lord says. "I am about to remove you from the face of the earth. This very year you are going to die because you have preached rebellion against the Lord." In the seventh month of the same year, the same year Hananiah the prophet died. Deuteronomy 18:21 in the New King James reads "How shall we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?". Verse 22 says that when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken.

  1. What are the fruits of the Prophet and his Ministry?

In Matthew 7:15, scripture speaks of true and false prophets and it says beware of false prophets which come to you in sheep's clothes. False prophets come disguised! In verse 16 we read "you will know them by their fruits". You will know them by their fruits, not their appearance! Verse 20 . The fruit that they produce will be the fruit of the spirit, but of course can include also the fruit of the prophecy as shown in the above tests (i.e. Accuracy of the prophecy, consistency with God's word, etc.).

  1. A true prophet points out the sins and transgressions of the people against God.

Going by the example of the true prophets that we see in scripture, the primary focus of their messages was to warn the people and to bring a call for repentance. (Isa. 58:1, "Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins.) This is sometimes referred to as "forthtelling" to differentiate it from foretelling. The foretelling part of their messages frequently was combined with the warning, either telling of the coming judgment as a result of their disobedience, or telling of the hope to come (as in the prophecies regarding Jesus.

(Examples of judgment such as portrayed in Isa. 24:20, "The earth reels like a drunkard, it sways like a hut in the wind; so heavy upon it is the guilt of its rebellion that it falls --never to rise again." and Rev. 14:6, 7, "Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth --to every nation, tribe, language and people. He said in a loud voice, 'Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.'").

  1. A True Prophet Edifies the Church

1 Cor. 14:3, 4, "But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.".

Other Resources

Other documents that provide valuable information regarding testing the spirits are:

Judge Not? What does scripture have to say about Judging? by Tom Smith

Is it Right: To Judge, To Expose Error & To Call Names? by Pastor E. L. Bynum

How to Discern, Test and Judge Rightly by Sandy Simpson

Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by Permission. All rights reserved.